UW News

January 31, 2017

UW’s Forefront to recreate memorial, advocate for solutions at Suicide Prevention Education Day in Olympia

In 2015, 1,129 Washington residents died by suicide — the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 44.

Next month, volunteers from Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention will erect headstones on the lawn in front of the Washington State Capitol, one for each of those lost lives. Colors in the visually striking memorial will reflect different manners of death: red for firearm, white for suffocation, yellow for poisoning or prescription overdose, green for jumping or cutting and blue for other means of ending one’s life.

Photograph of 2016 memorial

In 2016, this memorial honored the 1,111 people who died by suicide in Washington state in 2014. Headstone colors reflect the different means by which people ended their lives, and yellow ribbons honor veterans who died by suicide.Rajah Bose


On Feb. 16, the suicide prevention organization, which is housed at the University of Washington School of Social Work, will host a day of events in Olympia and join with partners — including firearms dealers, veterans’ organizations, pharmacists, health care providers and suicide attempt and loss survivors — to advocate for two legislative bills as part of Suicide Prevention Education Day.

Activities include a ceremony of remembrance and hope at the memorial from 11 to 11:30 a.m. on the Capitol lawn with speeches by legislators, suicide loss and suicide attempt survivors; lunch and a program on legislative priorities at the Governor’s Mansion from 12:15 to 1 p.m.; and a suicide prevention awareness training at the Woman’s Club of Olympia from 2 to 3:30 p.m. (Note: media or others wishing to attend the Governor’s Mansion program must register by Feb. 6 and bring identification on Feb. 16.)

“We will have volunteers and staff at the memorial all week to provide support and suicide prevention education. Seeing it can be quite emotional for people, so many of whom have been touched by suicide,” said Forefront co-founder and faculty director Jennifer Stuber, a UW associate professor of social work whose husband died by firearm suicide in 2011.

“We’re going to drive this social movement forward, and we won’t stop until the memorial is down to many fewer headstones,” she said.

Forefront is working with state Rep. Tina Orwall on legislation to achieve that goal, including HB 1612 to create a fund for a Suicide-Safer Homes public education platform and HB 1379 to support comprehensive suicide prevention initiatives on college and university campuses statewide.

“I am very proud of Forefront and the higher education community for partnering together and coming up with critical next steps on how to support students and prevent suicide on our campuses throughout the state,” said Orwall, prime sponsor of both bills. “This approach puts student safety first and begins to identify the resources and best practices needed to prevent suicide at all our higher education institutions.”

In the 2015-2016 academic year, nearly 10 percent of college students nationwide reported seriously considering suicide and 25 percent of students reported academic difficulty due to anxiety or depression. To address this often-overlooked and underfunded public health issue, the proposed Suicide Prevention in Higher Education bill, HB1379, would:

  • Create free, publicly available statewide online training for faculty, staff and students that includes culturally relevant materials for underrepresented populations
  • Establish baseline data collection on behavioral health concerns and responses at postsecondary institutions in Washington state
  • Form a grant program for suicide prevention funding to help resource-challenged institutions develop basic plans and innovative partnerships with community crisis lines

HB 1612 would establish a public-private partnership fund to implement the work of the Suicide-Safer Homes Task Force created last year by the Legislature to develop effective public health messages and help firearms dealers and pharmacists educate customers about suicide prevention and safe storage practices. Nearly 70 percent of suicides in Washington state involve guns or medications, and many of those deaths happen when guns, ammunition and medications are not stored safely.

The new fund would include money to train firearms dealers, launch pilot studies in two Washington counties with high suicide rates and create materials to support firearms retailers, pharmacists and health care providers in suicide prevention. The bill also adds dental professionals to the list of groups participating in training to help educate the public about the need for safe storage and disposal of medication.

In addition to the Education Day activities on Feb. 16, Forefront will also sponsor a separate suicide prevention awareness training and reception for state legislators and staff, executive and judicial employees, and others in the Capitol community on Feb. 13 from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Columbia Room of the Washington State Capitol.

For more information, contact Aimee Chou at akc2@uw.edu or Jennifer Stuber at 206-604-7740.